Let’s move on from Sunday, shall we?
Well, that was shit. No need for the massive overreaction though. It was the right time for us to get beaten. Wenger made a mistake in his team selection over this week of away games, using a mere 13 players overall. In a week where we were travelling large distances to play teams fighting for their manager’s futures, a bit of rotation was essential in order to prevent the tired legs and minds that we saw capitulate into one of the worst performances of recent memory at the Riverside Stadium. Middlesbrough outfought us all over the pitch, and it was one of those days where every hurried pass out of defence went straight to a red shirt and every 50/50 decision went the way of the home side. Of course it’s no excuse for the team being devoid of any semblance of attacking creativity or heart against one of the worst three teams in the league, but there we go.
Middlesbrough chased down every single ball for 94 minutes. Normally sides that do that against us tire after 70 minutes and we slowly pick them off with our superior fitness, but Sunday was not to be one of those days because our players looked tired and lethargic, and Boro’s energy didn’t seem to run out. Still, at least it takes the unbeaten pressure off. Losing it against Chelsea or Spurs would have been far, far worse, and this way the young players don’t have the tag of being "The New Invincibles", and can just concentrate on getting back to winning ways. In the 1997 to 1998 season, we’d already lost four matches by this stage, against such powerhouses of English football as Derby and Sheffield Wednesday. In the 2001 to 2002 season, we’d lost three games against Leeds, Charlton and Newcastle.
We’ve become spoilt by watching our team play beautiful football and winning most of the games this season in the process, but a time comes in every season when we play a bit shit, and you just hope you get through the period unscathed. Hopefully we’ve just watched that period, and now we can push on through this difficult month and be top of the league in the new year. It was still the best start to a Premier League season we’ve ever had, and we’re still top of the league. Yes, we rely on Hleb, Fabregas and van Persie for our attacking quality at times, and Flamini for spirit, but give me a club that wouldn't miss their three best players. Take Ronaldo, Rooney, Scholes and Hargreaves out of United’s side, Drogba, Lampard, Cole and Mikel out of Chelsea’s side, or Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano and Kewell out of Liverpool’s side, and see if they don’t have a couple of shit performances.
Anyway, er, back to the Champions League.
As you can see from the Group H table, we have to win to have any chance of coming top, and hope that Sevilla fail to win in Slavia Prague. We didn’t exactly find the conditions easy out there, and hopefully the Sevilla players, used to plying their trade in southern Spain, will have a harder time dealing with it. I think if we win we have a good chance of finishing top, but we need to concentrate on beating Steaua. Finishing top would mean we definitely avoid Milan, Barcelona and Inter, and probably Real Madrid.
Van Persie and Diaby are both in the squad after their respective injuries, but I doubt either will start. We’ll probably see them both getting half an hour at the end of the game. Still none of Flamini, Fabregas and Hleb are available. Jens will be starting in goal, much to my surprise. I didn’t think we’d see him in an Arsenal top again. With Chelsea on Sunday, I expect that some of the players that played a lot last week might get a rest. Adebayor and Rosicky mainly. Hopefully Flamini, Fabregas and Hleb will be back for the showdown with Chelsea on Sunday, and van Persie and Diaby return to full training this week too.
Subs: Fabianski, Sagna, Song, Diaby, Eboue, van Persie.